U.S. takes hard line in NAFTA talks

Omar Torres  AFP  Getty Images

In a tough opening speech to kick off this week's talks, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer highlighted the importance of modernising the deal to acknowledge the growth of the digital and service sectors in the 23 years since NAFTA was signed.

NAFTA critics argue the free trade agreement has pushed Midwest manufacturing jobs to Mexico where companies can find cheaper labor and then ship their products back to the United States. The Clinton administration said at the time that the deal would lead that surplus to rise and would create 170,000 jobs in the U.S. But shortly after the agreement took effect, Mexican exports to the U.S. exploded higher, creating a traded goods deficit of almost $16 billion in 1995.

However, Washington's negotiating partners made clear they view the free trade deal as a success and only want to see it modernized and improved, not weighed down with unreasonable goals.

But the agricultural leaders were pleased to hear Lighthizer single out US farmers and ranchers among those who have benefited from NAFTA. The Office of the United States Trade Representative states that negotiations will begin no earlier than August 16, 2017.

Lighthizer acknowledged that many Americans, particularly in farming and those living in border communities, have benefited from NAFTA and that it was paramount to maintain those interests. Among the USA goals he listed were reducing substantial trade deficits, manufacturing more goods in North America and improving standards for workers.


"So we need to make sure that the ability to move people, trade and services, is protected". It settles complaints about illegal subsidies and dumping and has often ruled against the U.S. Trump wants it gone - but Canada says it will walk away from the table if the U.S. pushes for its removal. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MEXICAN ECONOMY MINISTER, ILDEFONSO GUAJARDO VILLARREAL, SAYING: "I have always said that the negotiations cannot be unrealistic, they have to be realistic".

"And of course we're going to seek to uphold the existing elements in NAFTA that are key to our national interests", she said.

"For a deal to be successful, it has to work for all parties involved". Trump has been so opposed to NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership that having prior experience with trade agreements is often viewed as a political liability for potential appointments, they said.

The United States is renegotiating NAFTA under a legal provision known as Trade Promotion Authority, which allows US negotiators to submit the agreement's final text to Congress for a simple up or down vote, rather than voting on every provision of the deal. Negotiators are expected to continue talks next month in Mexico.

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